New York: Europa Editions, 2012.
I’ve been marooned in the land of Game of Thrones. Nothing like half a dozen 800-page books to slow down the reading pace. I got hooked when I rented the first season of the HBO series, then I went back to read the book of the ten hours of movies I’d just devoured. Somewhere around 1200 pages in, though, I got fed up and had to switch gears quickly.
Treasure Island was the cure. A different marooning. My friend Kelly recommended Levine’s book, but I wanted to go back to the original first. I read an edition illustrated by Robert Ingpen, which was deliciously drawn. Each page of the book is in full colour, to make it look like the book is printed on aged parchment. Long John Silver is perfectly menacing in all his scarred glory, but Ingpen very cleverly leaves the boy hero Jim Hawkins vaguely drawn so that the reader can imagine him or herself as the narrating hero.
And this is exactly what the narrator of Levine’s humourous telling does. A drifter of a twenty-something, the unnamed narrator is insufferably self-absorbed. Luckily, she’s also funny.
If life were a sea adventure, I knew: I wouldn’t be a sailor, pirate, or cabin boy but more likely a barnacle clinging to the side of the boat. Why not rise, I thought. Why not spring up that very moment, in the spirit of Jim, and create my own adventure? … I must have been the tiniest of boats rocking on the sea of Robert Louis Stevenson’s consciousness…; I must have been a sea-bird streaking through the azure sky of his daydream; in just the same way spirits are said to commune across cultures, time and continents, Robert Louis Stevenson’s book Treasure Island felt cosmically intended for me. (15)
Like Gabriel Betteredge, from Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone, who treats Robinson Crusoe as his bible and font of all wisdom, Levine’s narrator adopts Treasure Island as her personal self-help bible in order to make herself the hero of her own life.
I delved into my backpack for the golden compass I had made for my new life. This was not a long, gangly composition; I had merely–merely!–written down boy hero Jim Hawkins’ best qualities, which formed, I realized every moment with increasing warmth, the Core Values of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.
I am copying it out hurriedly here; of course, the original was carefully hand-lettered in a serifed style on a creamy seventy-pound piece of paper with a lovely deckled edge.
We are to treat “independence” with enormous irony. Never was there a more barnacle-like hanger on of a boomerang child. Never was there a narrator more unreliable, less honest and brave than good old Jim Hawkins. Another of the narrator’s lists is of her therapists. It is long, and deservedly so. She is batshit crazy.
Levine’s short novel develops into an anti-adventure. Instead of heading out to conquer the world, the narrator must move back home with her parents after a series of mishaps that leave her unemployed, homeless and in charge of a stolen parrot.
Her sister, whose library copy of Treasure Island the narrator steals, complains that she hates books without any female characters. (She has been looking for books to read to her third grade class.) This sense of a faulty script is the key to understanding the narrator’s predicament. She is one of the lost Special Snowflake generation. What is a college graduate with an over-developed sense of entitlement to do in the world that cares nothing for her ability to write a good English essay? (Thanks, Marcelle.)
Bury herself in her index cards and wreak havoc on the lives of those around her.
The result is a very funny read, full of madcap (domestic) mayhem.